Am I getting ripped off?

klx110

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I started training as a beginner at a Kenpo studio about 5 years ago. I was the first student to join when it opened and at the time were two full-time teachers and a master who would occasionally drop in to check on us and teach new material. Monthly membership has always been $100 and up until Covid we trained 3 days a week for an hour each session. I learned a lot the first 2 years being the only student in the class and having 2 teachers catch me up to advanced material in a short time. Since covid hit the studio has had some changes. We're down to only one teacher who only holds 2 class sessions per week (still charging $100/mo) for all skill levels, no divided classes since we don't have many students. I am now a green belt and there are currently 3 other students-one white belt, one orange and one purple. I've basically become the teacher's assistant by helping others students learn and progress to new levels. My main complaint is the class seems to move so slow and inefficient. Over the last several months we've had to backtrack and train basic material like kicking in front of the mirror, practicing blocking series, and basic white belt techniques. Students seem to come and go in a matter of weeks or months, with few staying long term. The only real training time I get is toward the end of class I train with the purple belt practicing techniques on each other. These days I rarely get to learn new material. I've tried talking the teacher into having separate class sessions for beginner and advanced and he just doesn't have the motivation. Also I run the class for about a week each month while the teacher is out on vacation or sick, ect. I've received on free month credit but not nearly enough to cover the classes I've taught. Been covering for at least the past 2 years.

So I'm asking what other people think about the situation? I've never been part of another program so I don't really know the standards. Just seems like they're quick to take my money and have me responsible for running the program.
 

Darksoul

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I started training as a beginner at a Kenpo studio about 5 years ago. I was the first student to join when it opened and at the time were two full-time teachers and a master who would occasionally drop in to check on us and teach new material. Monthly membership has always been $100 and up until Covid we trained 3 days a week for an hour each session. I learned a lot the first 2 years being the only student in the class and having 2 teachers catch me up to advanced material in a short time. Since covid hit the studio has had some changes. We're down to only one teacher who only holds 2 class sessions per week (still charging $100/mo) for all skill levels, no divided classes since we don't have many students. I am now a green belt and there are currently 3 other students-one white belt, one orange and one purple. I've basically become the teacher's assistant by helping others students learn and progress to new levels. My main complaint is the class seems to move so slow and inefficient. Over the last several months we've had to backtrack and train basic material like kicking in front of the mirror, practicing blocking series, and basic white belt techniques. Students seem to come and go in a matter of weeks or months, with few staying long term. The only real training time I get is toward the end of class I train with the purple belt practicing techniques on each other. These days I rarely get to learn new material. I've tried talking the teacher into having separate class sessions for beginner and advanced and he just doesn't have the motivation. Also I run the class for about a week each month while the teacher is out on vacation or sick, ect. I've received on free month credit but not nearly enough to cover the classes I've taught. Been covering for at least the past 2 years.

So I'm asking what other people think about the situation? I've never been part of another program so I don't really know the standards. Just seems like they're quick to take my money and have me responsible for running the program.

That's a tough call. You do have time in with that style, and you appear to have gotten something out of it, certainly a desire for more. The price tag isn't bad, as compared to some other schools. Covid definitely messed a lot of things up, and not every place recovers well from it. My question is, are there other schools in your area, and have you checked them out? It's worth seeing what your options are, even if after some exploration you decide to stick with where you're at. Granted at another school you, especially if it's a different style, you'll have to let go, or at least put aside stuff you have learned with Kempo. However you have discipline and a genuine interest in learning more so maybe a transition won't be too much of a pain. Price tag might be different as well, but also may be worth it to you.

Let us know what else is in your area! I'm sure some of the other members here will have some more probing questions to help you consider your options.
 

isshinryuronin

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I started training as a beginner at a Kenpo studio about 5 years ago...I am now a green belt...I learned a lot the first 2 years being the only student in the class
That is a low rank after 5 years, especially since you were getting private/semi-private lessons. Just a fair student would normally be a brown belt, if not black. Doesn't make sense.

If you were the only student for the first 2 years at $100/mo., the studio would have gone out of business in a few months! Overhead should be at least $2000/mo. (and likely much more). That would be a loss of $45,000+ over the 2 years. Not possible. Doesn't make sense. As Judge Judy often said, "If it doesn't make sense, it isn't true."

If you are real, you should be able to address these concerns.

 

Gyakuto

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Students seem to come and go in a matter of weeks or months, with few staying long term.
Beginners joining at random points, for a few weeks and reducing the level of teaching back to the very basics and then leaving, is a real issue if theres only one class running.

The solution I suggested to my old teacher was to run 6 week beginners classes separately to the main class, and feeding those that stayed the course into the main class. It worked really well and I believe they continue to use the model. But it requires dedication and enthusiasm from the teachers, which, as a self-confessed show-off, he has in bucket loads!

It sounds to me like your club lacks this enthusiasm and dedication from its teachers.
 

tkdroamer

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I started training as a beginner at a Kenpo studio about 5 years ago. I was the first student to join when it opened and at the time were two full-time teachers and a master who would occasionally drop in to check on us and teach new material. Monthly membership has always been $100 and up until Covid we trained 3 days a week for an hour each session. I learned a lot the first 2 years being the only student in the class and having 2 teachers catch me up to advanced material in a short time. Since covid hit the studio has had some changes. We're down to only one teacher who only holds 2 class sessions per week (still charging $100/mo) for all skill levels, no divided classes since we don't have many students. I am now a green belt and there are currently 3 other students-one white belt, one orange and one purple. I've basically become the teacher's assistant by helping others students learn and progress to new levels. My main complaint is the class seems to move so slow and inefficient. Over the last several months we've had to backtrack and train basic material like kicking in front of the mirror, practicing blocking series, and basic white belt techniques. Students seem to come and go in a matter of weeks or months, with few staying long term. The only real training time I get is toward the end of class I train with the purple belt practicing techniques on each other. These days I rarely get to learn new material. I've tried talking the teacher into having separate class sessions for beginner and advanced and he just doesn't have the motivation. Also I run the class for about a week each month while the teacher is out on vacation or sick, ect. I've received on free month credit but not nearly enough to cover the classes I've taught. Been covering for at least the past 2 years.

So I'm asking what other people think about the situation? I've never been part of another program so I don't really know the standards. Just seems like they're quick to take my money and have me responsible for running the program.
Is this a commercial location or an 'out of the basement' arrangement? If this is a commercial, for-profit business, I would not see it lasting very long giving the class size.
I am speculating, but it sounds like a classic case of burnout or life getting in the way for the instructor. Do you know what happened to the other instructor?
Teaching as a higher color belt is quite common in most MA's styles. But there is a point of diminishing returns for the student that an instructor/school owner has to be careful not to breech too much. Some people benefit from this component more than others and sometimes it is used as a teaching tool (for patience, humbleness, etc...). Some people find they have a real gift for teaching.
You are definitely at a juncture where you must set down with the instructor and convey Exactly what you shared here. Two years is getting long in the tooth. Set down and get the skinny on what is going on and what the future for the school looks like. Hopefully, this will give you a clearer answer. It might be time to survey the other schools in your area.
 

skribs

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I wouldn't say "ripped off", more like "let down." I think the cost for training is fair. But there are a couple of issues.

My experience is in Taekwondo, not Kenpo, so some specifics may be different. Most of what you say sounds somewhat fine (except for what @isshinryuronin said about progression). Typically if you are the most advanced in the class, you tend to spend more time mentoring than you do learning yourself. This is a problem I've had in Taekwondo and Hapkido, in which I was a main instructor in Taekwondo and the 2nd-highest student in Hapkido.

Backtracking to work on beginner techniques doesn't sound like a problem to me. White belt techniques are foundation techniques, and you can always work to improve them. And, if he's specifically going back to basics, there's probably a reason.

There is one piece that stands out to me, though:
I've tried talking the teacher into having separate class sessions for beginner and advanced and he just doesn't have the motivation.
If he doesn't have the motivation, then that's going to come through in the training. We had a sort of private seminar at my BJJ school the other day. We had a visiting professor and there were only two of us in class. They (my professor and his visiting friend) said they were happy that me and my classmate were there; they weren't upset that the others weren't. My professor said that if we're the only two showing up for Friday class, or even if I'm the only one showing up for Friday class, that he was going to make sure he was there. Even if I'm getting free private lessons, he was going to be there.

Contrast this with my experience at the tail end of my Taekwondo days. I had told my Master that I was planning on moving after getting my 4th Dan and taking the Kukkiwon Master course; a process that would take probably 2-3 years. He acted as if I had given him my 2 weeks notice. He cut my hours to make sure he had coverage of his classes. He had times where he was "too busy" to do private classes (that I would be paying $80 per class), which I needed because we barely ever got a chance to go over the stuff for my 4th Dan test. If we did, it was me teaching the other 3rd Dans, and not him teaching me. Every other week, he would ask, "How long are you going to be around?" He stopped asking me to assist in judging belt tests, which he previously had started having me run them (under his direct supervision). The plan for when I would take my test kept getting pushed back further and further, because he didn't have time to give me private lessons. But even though he dragged it out, he pushed me away at the same time. So I left without getting my 4th Dan.

I'm much happier where I'm at now. I'm at a place a where my professor wants to teach me. I'm at a place where he wants to have me in class. And, we've recently started discussing having me run a striking class, so he wants to have me involved. It's a much different situation than I left.
 

Anarax

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I started training as a beginner at a Kenpo studio about 5 years ago. I was the first student to join when it opened and at the time were two full-time teachers and a master who would occasionally drop in to check on us and teach new material. Monthly membership has always been $100 and up until Covid we trained 3 days a week for an hour each session. I learned a lot the first 2 years being the only student in the class and having 2 teachers catch me up to advanced material in a short time. Since covid hit the studio has had some changes. We're down to only one teacher who only holds 2 class sessions per week (still charging $100/mo) for all skill levels, no divided classes since we don't have many students. I am now a green belt and there are currently 3 other students-one white belt, one orange and one purple. I've basically become the teacher's assistant by helping others students learn and progress to new levels. My main complaint is the class seems to move so slow and inefficient. Over the last several months we've had to backtrack and train basic material like kicking in front of the mirror, practicing blocking series, and basic white belt techniques. Students seem to come and go in a matter of weeks or months, with few staying long term. The only real training time I get is toward the end of class I train with the purple belt practicing techniques on each other. These days I rarely get to learn new material. I've tried talking the teacher into having separate class sessions for beginner and advanced and he just doesn't have the motivation. Also I run the class for about a week each month while the teacher is out on vacation or sick, ect. I've received on free month credit but not nearly enough to cover the classes I've taught. Been covering for at least the past 2 years.

So I'm asking what other people think about the situation? I've never been part of another program so I don't really know the standards. Just seems like they're quick to take my money and have me responsible for running the program.
It's difficult to say, there's several factors to consider. When a dojo's training culture changes and we feel we aren't getting the same level of training we did before, it's usually best to move on elsewhere. I've stayed at previous dojos hoping the training culture would change back, but I now realized I just wasted my time.

It seems that you're taking on important responsibilities, but it's hard to say if it was assigned for student development/testing or out of laziness. You expressed the instructor wasn't receptive to you brining it to his attention. I would maybe try talking to him one more time, but given the information you've provided, I would maybe start checking out other places while you still attend your normal classes.
 

MetalBoar

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I started training as a beginner at a Kenpo studio about 5 years ago. I was the first student to join when it opened and at the time were two full-time teachers and a master who would occasionally drop in to check on us and teach new material. Monthly membership has always been $100 and up until Covid we trained 3 days a week for an hour each session. I learned a lot the first 2 years being the only student in the class and having 2 teachers catch me up to advanced material in a short time. Since covid hit the studio has had some changes. We're down to only one teacher who only holds 2 class sessions per week (still charging $100/mo) for all skill levels, no divided classes since we don't have many students. I am now a green belt and there are currently 3 other students-one white belt, one orange and one purple. I've basically become the teacher's assistant by helping others students learn and progress to new levels. My main complaint is the class seems to move so slow and inefficient. Over the last several months we've had to backtrack and train basic material like kicking in front of the mirror, practicing blocking series, and basic white belt techniques. Students seem to come and go in a matter of weeks or months, with few staying long term. The only real training time I get is toward the end of class I train with the purple belt practicing techniques on each other. These days I rarely get to learn new material. I've tried talking the teacher into having separate class sessions for beginner and advanced and he just doesn't have the motivation. Also I run the class for about a week each month while the teacher is out on vacation or sick, ect. I've received on free month credit but not nearly enough to cover the classes I've taught. Been covering for at least the past 2 years.

So I'm asking what other people think about the situation? I've never been part of another program so I don't really know the standards. Just seems like they're quick to take my money and have me responsible for running the program.
I find this to be kind of questionable. I'll break down my thoughts:
  • $100/month for 2 sessions/week is within the normal range for places I've lived. Might be expensive for small town Ohio, might be cheap for New York City. Cost of operation can go way up and then prices usually go up too, or in this case, maybe staffing went down. Every time my lease ran out for my gym in Seattle my rent went up by $1000+/month and that money's got to come from somewhere, so not necessarily a red flag.
  • Being a teacher's assistant is often an expected part of being an advanced student in a school and I've found that it often gives you the opportunity to learn and/or cement things in ways that just practicing doesn't. I wouldn't call that a red flag based on what you've said.
  • Going back over the basics is always valuable. I wouldn't worry about the "backtracking", just use it to put more polish on your fundamentals.
  • A lot of students come and go, that's just the nature of the beast. If almost nobody sticks around for more than a couple of months I guess I would wonder about the atmosphere, culture or other aspects of the school.
  • If you aren't getting any instruction, and the only progress you're making is working with another student, not the instructor, I'd call that a red flag.
  • The pace at which you receive new materials is hard to evaluate. Some people always want something new before they've got a handle on what they've already been shown. Still, combined with the next bullet point I find it concerning.
  • If your instructor instructor is clearly burned out and just going through the motions because he's got to pay for the lease or something, that's a really bad sign. I'd have a talk with the instructor about it and then look at switching schools if this is definitely the case and isn't going to change.
  • Teaching some classes is expected as one gets to be an advanced student, but it should be part of your training. If you aren't at least somewhat regularly supervised in your teaching and getting feedback on how to improve upon it, you're an employee, not a student during that time in my opinion. In my opinion, if it's a full week every month and you're an assistant instructor the rest of the time, at the very least you shouldn't be paying any fees to the school, outside of maybe belt tests if they have to shell out to a national organization or something.
So, based on what you've said I'd have some concerns about whether your instructor's heart is still in it. I don't know that I'd say you're definitely getting ripped off without knowing a lot more, but I'd be asking questions too. I'd also go look at the other schools in the area and see what you think of them, just as a comparison if nothing else. It'll tell you what the going rates are and you'll see if other schools have a lot more energy and more engaged instructors.

Good luck!
 
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klx110

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Thanks for the informative responses guys! Was so surprised how many responses in a short period of time, most of which are well written. It's a tough situation I'm in. There's really no other Kenpo schools nearby. BJJ has taken over and Taw Kwon Doe is the other option. I always knew that teaching newer students was common in martial arts but the main problem is it interferes with gaining new skill. Also, I feel my membership should be discounted along with full credit for class sessions that are taught by myself.
 
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klx110

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That is a low rank after 5 years, especially since you were getting private/semi-private lessons. Just a fair student would normally be a brown belt, if not black. Doesn't make sense.

If you were the only student for the first 2 years at $100/mo., the studio would have gone out of business in a few months! Overhead should be at least $2000/mo. (and likely much more). That would be a loss of $45,000+ over the 2 years. Not possible. Doesn't make sense. As Judge Judy often said, "If it doesn't make sense, it isn't true."

If you are real, you should be able to address these concerns.

Ok first of all a green belt is only one rank below a brown belt. How does this not make sense? If you read my entire post one of my complaints was how slow it is to progress in a single class of all skill levels. Not to mention the covid shutdown cost a few months of class time.

One point I forgot to mention is the studio is a shared space. It is a dance studio/yoga/tai chi studio during the day. The Kenpo is just an add on class costing no extra overhead. All revenue goes to the gal who holds the lease and manages the dance classes.

I've rarely ever heard of real studios handing out black belts for people who train 5 years. I hear the Mcdojos hand them out in 2 years but arts like kenpo take a solid 10 years of training.

Hope this all makes sense.
 

drop bear

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Look around. If you can do better.

Then do better.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Ok first of all a green belt is only one rank below a brown belt. How does this not make sense? If you read my entire post one of my complaints was how slow it is to progress in a single class of all skill levels. Not to mention the covid shutdown cost a few months of class time.

One point I forgot to mention is the studio is a shared space. It is a dance studio/yoga/tai chi studio during the day. The Kenpo is just an add on class costing no extra overhead. All revenue goes to the gal who holds the lease and manages the dance classes.

I've rarely ever heard of real studios handing out black belts for people who train 5 years. I hear the Mcdojos hand them out in 2 years but arts like kenpo take a solid 10 years of training.

Hope this all makes sense.
Most styles of kenpo take around 4-5 years to get to black. Including most American Kenpo schools. There's the odd duck (like myself) who takes much longer than that, but by and large 10 years for black belt is not typical for American Kenpo.

Not that it matters all that much. Black belt means something different from style to style and school to school, with some meaning that you're now a serious student, some meaning you can teach, and some meaning you can perform/fight at a high level. Given there's no consistency, it's not a red flag or a mcdojo if a school gives out black belts quicker/longer than you feel is right (with the exception of if they're A) neglecting a codified curriculum, and B) counting it as a 'teaching license').
 

skribs

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There's really no other Kenpo schools nearby. BJJ has taken over and Taw Kwon Doe is the other option.
So go to BJJ or TKD. Like I said in my post. I'm a 3rd Dan in TKD and a 1st Dan in HKD. I recently moved. Instead of going to a new TKD school here (there isn't really HKD), I went to BJJ. I have started over at white belt. But I'm learning a new skill, and I'm much happier.

There's a concept called the "Sunk Cost Fallacy." Lately it's something that's really driving the monetization of mobile games like Raid Shadow Legends that you hear about. It starts off free, but you need to spend more and more money in order to keep leveling up. But, you already put in $20 to get to level 30, what's another $10 to get to level 35?

It's the same in martial arts. People feel that they've already invested so much time into Kenpo that they have to stick with Kenpo. Or they feel if they change martial arts before getting black belt it means they are a "quitter". There's a difference between quitting Kenpo to go to BJJ or TKD (or even to switch over to basketball) and quitting Kenpo because it interferes with your raid nights in World of Warcraft. It might suck being the bottom guy on the totem pole for a while. But if it's what you need to do to find an instructor that meets your needs, then it's what you need to do.
I always knew that teaching newer students was common in martial arts but the main problem is it interferes with gaining new skill.
As I and others hinted above, acquisition of new skill is not the only objective as a martial artist. You also need to polish off your foundational stuff. One thing about teaching is it puts extra responsibility on you to know the material. You may get questions from students that you've never had, and it will make you look for answers you otherwise wouldn't have. When assessing myself and how well I know something, my benchmark is, "Can I teach it to someone else?" If I can, that means I know it.
Also, I feel my membership should be discounted along with full credit for class sessions that are taught by myself.
If you are leading warmups, holding pads, running a small group here or there, then those are usually volunteer positions. If you are running an entire class, then you should be compensated. Either you should be paid for your time, or your training should be discounted.
 

isshinryuronin

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I've rarely ever heard of real studios handing out black belts for people who train 5 years. I hear the Mcdojos hand them out in 2 years but arts like kenpo take a solid 10 years of training.........Ed Parker's American Kenpo
see below

Most styles of kenpo take around 4-5 years to get to black. Including most American Kenpo schools.
This is accurate most schools, regardless of style. I trained with Ed Parker and knew a number of this black belts. It's hard to get an EPKK black belt quickly due to the complexity of the curriculum, but 10 years as a rule? Absolutely not - another red flag for both the poster and, if true, the school. It's possible the teacher is an imposter and just doesn't have the knowledge of a black belt to pass on.

Anyway, the whole situation in this thread is suspect to me.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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This is accurate most schools, regardless of style.
I'm assuming you mean style of kenpo, as that is definitely not consistent regarding general martial arts styles.
I trained with Ed Parker and knew a number of this black belts. It's hard to get an EPKK black belt quickly due to the complexity of the curriculum, but 10 years as a rule? Absolutely not - another red flag for both the poster and, if true, the school. It's possible the teacher is an imposter and just doesn't have the knowledge of a black belt to pass on.
That feels a bit extreme of an assumption to make, especially considering OP seems to be their only long-term student. There's a lot of factors in play, and it's entirely possible that he is one of the people that progresses slowly for whatever reason, but doesn't know that since he has no other long-term students to compare to.

Based on personal experience with 2 different kem/npo styles-in one it took me roughly 13 years to get black belt, with the average time for practitioners being around 5-8 years from what I recall. Not typical for the style, but for the school, and when we had visiting black belts from other schools in the same franchise, they'd be around a 3rd-kyu level.

I went to a different school of the same style, and took people 4-5 years to get black belt, and while the black bel tlevel was lower, if you looked at it at years training, the progression was pretty much the same-If I looked at an adult from both schools who'd been training 2 years, they'd be on average pretty similar in overall ability.

In the other style, granted I'd been training a similar style for 15 years, it took me 3 years to get menkyo. Someone else had been training there for like 10 years but less consistently and got Menkyo the same time as me.

All 3 schools, in my opinion and having cross-trained in other places, were legitimate schools. Not saying I'm the judge of this, and obviously these are all anecdotal, but I've learned not to view ranking speed as a sign of a mcdojo.
 
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isshinryuronin

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Most styles of kenpo take around 4-5 years to get to black. Including most American Kenpo schools.

Based on personal experience with 2 different kem/npo styles-in one it took me roughly 13 years to get black belt, with the average time for practitioners being around 5-8 years from what I recall.
Aren't these two quotes contradictory?
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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Aren't these two quotes contradictory?
Nah. First is referring to what's normal. Second is referring specifically to the schools I stuck with. I've checked out a lot of schools, and spoken with a ton of people who have done various styles of kenpo so have a good idea of what's normal (in the northeast usa) vs. The specific school that i mentioned. If you read on, i even specify that my school was an anomaly compared to other schools in that substype/franchise.
 

ardimo77

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So based on your comments, I am not going to state that the school is ripping you off; however, if you are a Green Belt in Kenpo, that is a short distance from brown belt and if the school is not teaching you the techniques or Green Belt curriculum, then yes you are being held back. It is always better to be a small fish in a larger pond as you tend to learn more than a big fish in a small one. You are currently the academy's assistant instructor, but the detriment is you are not learning or meeting your own requirements. Without stating that the school is ripping you off, I would part ways with that academy and look elsewhere based on that alone. Additionally, I am sure that others may differ and that is ok, but at five years of training, if you trained for five years, you should have met your Shodan in Kenpo or been a lot closer to it by now.

Also, to the one who stated that it takes at least ten years for a black belt in kenpo, even if you received one technique a week, you should meet your black belt at 4.5 years, 5 years maybe. I have never heard of a person studying kenpo consistently and receiving their Shodan at ten years.
 
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